I ducked my head as I entered the long, white basement room at the Buddhist wat. I had participated in short, guided meditations before, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from a 2 hour Buddhist mediation led by a monk.
The friendly monk greeted us and asked us to sign in. He smiled and gestured for us to grab a mat and find a place to sit facing the platform filled with statues of the Buddha.
Once everyone arrived, the monk took a seat on a large wooden chair next to the platform. We sat crossed-legged on our mats. I was thankful for the mat’s raised back that relieved the pressure on my unflexible hips.
The monk tilted his head and a giant smile filled his face, his eyes squeezed tight behind his black framed glasses.
“Today you will learn about Buddhist meditation,” he said.
“You will practice it, but you will not be able to do it. That is OK.”
“In meditation, you feel a sensation, but you detach from it. If you feel itchy, you think ‘itchy, itchy, itchy’ until you no longer feel the itch. For pain, ‘pain, pain, pain.’ If you are bored, ‘boring, boring, boring.’ You understand?” Again a huge smile lit up his face.
“There is standing, sitting, and laying mediation.” The monk explained. “First, we will try standing/walking mediation.”
He instructed the eight of us to line up along the long wall of the small rectangular room. We would be pacing across the room, turning when we came to the wall. The width of the room was long enough for about 10 steps.
We were told to think, “walking, walking, walking.” Then as we approached the wall, “standing, standing, standing.” “Turning, turning, turning.” Back to standing and walking again.
In the sitting meditation, our instructions were to sit still and notice, but be detached from all sensations.
The monk then left us to do the walking mediation for 45 minutes and then the sitting meditation for another 45 minutes. Arwen set a timer on her watch, so we would know when to switch.
Then we began pacing. After first, I was able to stay focused by chanting, “walking, standing, turning…” But after about 20 minutes it got harder. My mind wandered. If I weren’t trying so hard to think, “walking, walking, walking,” I would have been thinking, ”boring, boring, boring.”
Finally the alarm went off and we switched to sitting.
Perhaps it was the power of suggestion, but the first sensation I felt was itching. Thinking, “itchy, itchy, itchy” only seemed to make it worse. Eventually it stopped, but probably because the next sensation had arrived. “Pain, pain, pain.” The raised mat could only keep my legs from falling asleep for so long.
First there was pain, then tingling, then total numbness. The monk encouraged us not to move even if our legs fell asleep and I really wanted to give Buddhist mediation an honest try.
Also, there were video cameras in the room and I was pretty sure the monks were taking bets on who would move first. I am sure it was one of my girls. I kept hearing someone crack their knuckles. It turned out to be Arwen.
Eventually I couldn’t stand it any longer, but I still didn’t want to move. I figured out that if I jabbed my finger nail into my knee, my foot would start to wake up. Since my hands were on my knees, I could do this without looking like I was moving.
Totally cheating, I know.
Soon the alarm sounded again and we were done.
The monk returned and talked to us some more. A man in the class had the same question I did. How can you detach if you are thinking, ”pain, pain, pain?”
The monk gave a philosophical answer that I didn’t make much sense to me, but he grinned the whole time he spoke, so I smiled and nodded like I understood.
I really wanted to like Buddhist mediation, but besides the adorable smiling monk, I found the whole experience to be “boring, boring, boring” and “pain, pain, pain.”
And yet, I am glad I had the experience. I still find Buddhism and meditation fascinating. I guess the monk was right. I could practice Buddhist meditation, but I wasn’t able to do it right away. And that is Ok.